(I had a strange dream last night, which prompted this hastily written entry this morning. This means that no real research (beyond my brain) was done. It might change over the next few days, but I will note where edits are made.)
For some people, especially young women, feminism is still a dirty word, something I would tut at, but seeing as I was (apparently) labelled the school lesbian for self-identifying with the ‘man-hating’ f-word in grade 9 (I’m sure the Doc Martens didn’t help), I kind of understand why some would be reluctant, at least in their adolescent years, to embrace it fully. (At least I can laugh about it now.) What I don’t understand is how feminism, which really is a flexible notion, has been lost and corrupted in myriad ways. Ways that allow that whole ‘Oooooo, I’d let Chris Brown beat ME’ débacle go down. Or leads to a society where padded bras for 7-year-olds are marketed and sold.
In my completely self-taught mind, feminism should be, at its core about three things: Choice, Respect, and Community.
The first one is obvious; Women should have the right to work outside the home, or not. Or choose to wax every inch of their body, or braid their lustrous armpit hair (I’ve come close to that, btw). Or learn to cook, or not. Or have kids, or not, and either choose to stay at home with them, or not. No one man, or parent, or whoever should tell another woman what she can’t do – it is her decision to pursue her strengths and dreams, to have control of her own body, and to not have government or the weird ‘dividing church and state? ridiculous!’ people dictate how she lives her life.
Respect, however, seems to have been lost a bit. I’ll admit that I don’t understand free-wheelin’ women who aggressively pursue one-night stands at every opportunity and love it, but I will defend their right to do it. What I do not agree with is women who pursue men (or women) and are miserable about it, but do it because of society’s expectations of a single person. There are armies of very drunk, often very ridiculous women tottering down the streets of Ottawa (or Newcastle) in winter, bare-legged, wearing unsuitable shoes, who claim that they are empowered. I can’t read minds, obviously, but I’m sure some (most?) of them are absolutely not.
Not to mention strong women who love douchebags. I know far too many of them, many of whom have been beaten down over the years because said guys cheat, but get away with it, forget about anniversaries, breaking hearts, or are just useless scum who are incapable of treating a woman with respect. It’s brutal to see a kick-ass woman sadly apologising for her boyfriend’s absence at her own birthday (again) party because he’s hungover or just can’t be fucking bothered.
How many friends do you have who are hooked on absolute assholes who treat them like shit? How many drunk-dials do they make to those dickheads once they do get the nerve to leave? Are you hooked on a shitty guy/girl? Would you advise your friend to stay with them? Respect your friends, respect yourself, and try to extracate yourself from the situation. Not that there’s a switch to turn off feeling (man, I sure wish there was – it would have saved me from years of heartache, seriously), but one’s own physical and mental health should always be a person’s absolute top priority. Your friends’ and family’s should be a very high number two.
I’m worried about this because it’s kind of indicative of a society where people aren’t really looking out for each other the way that they could or should (and I am completely guilty of this too), at least in the Western world of computers-over-humans. The women who say Chris Brown can beat them, whether they are serious or not, are showing a complete lack of respect for every woman who has been in an abusive relationship, and a lack of respect for their own bodies.
(Also? Women who think it’s their right to have sex with other women’s boyfriend’s husbands because it’s a feminist empowering thing? Are forgetting that the cheated-on party is a woman (and human being) too and deserves respect as well.)
Which leads me to Community. I think that we are sadly lacking in strong communities nowadays. People hole up in their homes at their computers far too much. Kids (and, hell, adults) are sharing everything on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs (ahem), but it’s still self-isolating in many ways, and very much about trying to be noticed in a world where people would otherwise (perhaps) not be.
My very wise friend Ruth and I had a discussion (prompted by standing on a pier in Santa Monica and talking about my fear of the infinite manifesting itself in nervousness while staring at the sea) about atheism a few years ago. She is an atheist. I am a wussy agnostic. I said I wasn’t really ready to let go of the idea of a higher power in the world. She said that she believed in the power of her community, of her friends, and her family, which was absolutely stunning to me. I have friends, but I don’t have that large circle of trust like she has (seriously, I’ve never known anyone with more legit friends than she does). And that can’t be developed overnight, so I’m still at sea about it (though I have plenty of online friends, obviously – but, for example, if I decided to have a baby on my own, do I have a powerful enough circle of local friends to support me? I’m not sure). And it’s probably why I think church is a nice place to go on a Sunday (even as a wussy agnostic), because it’s way of checking in with a larger circle of people every week and creating a larger social network (in the old-fashioned sense), one that will look after you, and that you can help look after as well.
(My mother had a huge network of friends and acquaintances and was hugely respected in her community (centred around the school where she worked for 20+ years), so when she was struggling (for years) with cancer, neighbours we barely knew would bring around casseroles or knit hats or offer to shovel the driveway in winter. It’s because my mother had room in her heart for everyone else that they found a place for her.)
ANYway, feminism should also have, at its core, a sense of community rather than one of competitiveness and selfishness. This includes men. I have not mentioned the word ‘equality’ yet because I do not think men and women are equivalent (yet obviously deserving of equal respect, pay, etc.), but they are all part of the larger community of humans. My even-more-idealistic young self didn’t want to take Women’s History classes not because I didn’t think it’s worth studying the role of women, but because I hated the idea of separating out women’s stories from ‘regular’ (DWM, largely) history classes and because, by and large, men don’t take Women’s History classes.
Perhaps that doesn’t quite follow logically, because it means I didn’t learn much women’s history either. But I’m that kind of feminist. I think men are part of the equation that have been forgotten. Of course, there are self-identifying man feminists, but are there enough if memes like Feminist Ryan Gosling are revered in an almost deified way?
I was once (quite condescendingly, unfortunately) told by a guy that I was ‘the good kind of feminist, because (I’m not) preachy about it’. I am, but I don’t necessarily start every rant about injustice with ‘As a woman, I…’ or ‘As a human, I…’ I don’t need those pithy phrases: I am a woman and I am a feminist. My opinions don’t need to be qualified when those things are obvious. So I say nothing and speak as a person (who happens to be female and a feminist) instead of ‘scaring’ people with words they clearly fear (still).
Maybe this is counterproductive, but as I’ve known so-called feminists who almost gleefully emasculated their male partners (one would give her husband the silent treatment for days if he forgot to unload the dishwasher, for example, until he bought her a present), I don’t think a lot of us know how to proceed. But I really think the key is that we need to concentrate on living as a community of people, men and women, rather than about each fighting the fight (such as it is) individually. I don’t think we should fracture society by segregating ourselves when discussing feminist issues (yes, yes, we’ve lived in a male-dominated society for a long time, but I don’t think that means women should absolutely take over now or at any time). I don’t think we should just empower girls and leave our boys behind. And I think I’ve written enough for one morning before I’ve even finished the first coffee of the day.